‘Swipe Right for Murder’ – Derek Milman

Aidan, our main character, is a bit of a pampered young man. He’s friends with some wealthy people, and this explains why we find him at the start of the book in an exclusive hotel. At this point I didn’t find myself that keen on him – he was very focused on the impression he gives and too bothered about himself to really take note of those around him.

Finding himself alone in this lovely hotel in New York City, Aidan gets himself logged onto a dating app and tries to find himself a no-strings hook-up for the evening. Effort one is someone he knows from school, and things don’t go well. Rather than lock himself away, Aidan tries again.

Second time round he’s met by a rather older man called Benoit who keeps asking him about an item he’s meant to deliver. Aidan (naturally) has no idea what he’s talking about. When he wakes up and finds his one-night stand dead beside him Aidan realises he’s got himself into something very very dangerous.
What follows is high-adrenaline action-packed stuff, the likes of which I love reading about but if there was the slightest hint of it happening in real life I’d curl under the nearest table before running away.

Aidan manages to drag himself through a range of incredibly bizarre scenarios. He’s being used by the FBI to bait a highly-organised terrorist organisation and his picture is plastered all over the news. Given the profile of this group/scenario what happens seems quite unbelievable, but it doesn’t stop it being good fun to read.

‘All Eyes on Us’ – Kit Frick

All Eyes On Us focuses on two girls – Amanda and Rosalie – who seem very different, but who have a lot more in common than they realise…Carter Shaw, son of a local businessman.

Amanda is part of his social circle and their families have been pushing for them to be a couple since they were little. Amanda’s life is mapped out for her. College with Carter, a long engagement and then children, turning a blind eye to Carter’s indiscretions because that’s what’s expected of her. For years, she’s gone along with this but when Amanda starts to receive anonymous text messages she begins to question the wisdom of her life choices.

Amanda knows Carter has not always been faithful to her. She knows he is currently seeing Rosalie on the side. But what neither she nor Carter knows is that Rosalie is actually using Carter as a cover for the fact that she is a lesbian and her fundamentalist Christian parents can’t accept her choices. Forced to hide who she is, Rosalie decides to use Carter as her cover, while seeing her girlfriend in secret.

The messages that both girls receive are meant to be vaguely threatening, but there’s a limit to what people can do if you don’t succumb to their threats. Unfortunately, in the vein of the Pretty Little Liars characters, the girls in this respond to the messages and threats and start to let them rule what decisions they make. This is frustrating and leads them into quite unrealistic scenarios.

The book is a bit slow to get going as we establish the characters of Amanda and Rosalie. There’s a lot of focus on the parents of Amanda and Carter which makes little sense at first, but we do realise its significance eventually. My biggest gripe was with the character of Carter who was, in essence, a serial cheater and not a particularly appealing character.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my thoughts. This is a definite must-read for fans of the Pretty Little Liars books.

‘Infinity Son’ – Adam Silver

Silvera’s evident love of the fantasy genre is laid out for us in his intro, and is splashed all over the pages of this foray into the genre.
The story itself has some interesting elements. Definitely loving the phoenixes and the details linked to the idea of rebirth. There’s hints of some intriguing developments between the characters of Emil and Mirabelle, and Brighton’s story looks as if it’ll pick up and get a whole lot more interesting in the future. This was a quick read but it was not, unfortunately for me, the hit I was expecting and there’s a few reasons for this.
The main reason I found this not wholly successful was the lack of time taken to establish the world in which it was set. We were plunged straight in, and little was explained in a way that would have made sense to me. Some of the answers were given later, but there was a lot assumed about the world of the narrative and I really wanted more detail so I could understand how this situation had come about.
The next difficulty I had was with the characterisation. It took a while to feel any sense of difference between the characters of Emil and Brighton, and simply hammering the point home that one is obsessed by social media isn’t enough to do this. To suddenly find myself with another viewpoint – which wasn’t really set-up – also made it wobble slightly as I tried to keep track of who was doing what (though this may say more about me).
For some readers, the love interest that develops partway through will definitely get them excited. The feelings Emil has for Ness are hard to ignore, but they are really superficial (guess we have to start somewhere). The initial scene where their feelings were apparent felt like some kind of wish-fulfilment exercise, and Silvera’s comments about his reaction to Cassandra Clare’s series does explain this a little. It seemed they might be able to get into a more nuanced relationship but the events in the narrative make this difficult. No matter how he dresses it up (and perhaps his explanations will make people swoon over his resolve to hurt the one he loves to prevent someone else doing worse) I can’t quite get my head around the way Ness treats Emil. When you look at it in a more detached way it seems horribly abusive and not the basis for a good relationship. Granted, it’s early stages so perhaps this will develop in a slightly different way.
So, all in all, this was a story where someone got to revel in their love for a genre but I can’t help but feel things would be better if the style was a little less exaggerated, world-building was established and we weren’t in some whirlwind attempt to cram excitement onto every page to guarantee people reading on. Sometimes, less is more.
Due for release in early 2020, so it’ll be interesting to see how/if it changes by then. However, I’m really grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this so early in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ – Casey McQuiston

Will we ever see such a reality? A female President whose bisexual son starts a relationship with the Prince of England…probably not, but that’s why we have books.

Alex is convinced that he hates the Prince of England – but for someone who is so disliked, Alex spends a lot of time reading about him. Of course, his feelings are pretty obvious to everyone but Alex for the start of the book. Interestingly, it’s not him who makes the first move and this was a little more graphic than I was thinking it would be.

Some of the scenarios we were given were – I imagine – highly improbable. However, this was a romance with a difference.Great fun. Cheering. Highly entertaining.

‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ – John Boyne

Where to start?

I’ve seen so much criticism surrounding this book, and I was in two minds about reading it.

I’d hate to accuse writers of jumping on a bandwagon, but there is a cynical part of me that wonders whether this seemed an opportune time to write a novel about an issue that is high-profile. Boyne’s comments at the end of the novel would suggest not, but it certainly raises points of concern for many readers.

The story is told through the eyes of Sam, a thirteen year old whose mother is a Member of Parliament, and how he feels when his elder brother, Jason, tells the family he is transgender. As a result, there’s a lot of stereotypical negative comments made that don’t really help anyone to gain understanding of the situation.

From the outset I felt that there was a rather outdated feel to this. Sam did not come across as representative of many thirteen year olds and their awareness of issues around gender. Some of the comments may be realistic, but perpetuating the clichés and insults is no way to go if you’re trying to raise awareness.

The parent figures were vile. Their initial comments and behaviours showed a total lack of empathy. Perhaps that’s the point, but I don’t think it really helps anyone to consider their standpoint if they only see one view.

A hard review to write and I may well edit this in the future.

To me this felt a little misguided, and I can’t help but think someone else has done it better.

Thanks to Sophia Bennett@Twitter for drawing my attention to a great review of this novel from the perspective of someone who has a little more understanding of the situation than I do:  https://frejawoolf.tumblr.com/post/184559813853/my-brothers-name-is-jessica-by-john-boyne-a

 

‘Girls Made of Snow and Glass’ – Melissa Bashardoust

A feminist re-imagining of the Snow White tale and, though a little slow to draw us in, it was a beautifully told story.

We’re told this story from alternating perspectives – Mina (a girl whose heart is made of glass and who’s shunned by everyone because of her magician father) and Lynet (a princess made of snow who is destined to rule, but who wants nothing more than to be loved) – and this allows us to develop an understanding of each character, lending a subtlety to their portrayal that I felt was intriguing.

Initially it takes a bit of time to establish the time-frame for each character. Mina, however, becomes stepmother to Lynet and it was lovely to see how they learn to trust themselves and each other.

I was a little unsure of my feelings towards this initially, but as the characters come into their own I was rooting for each and hoping for a better outcome than that which seemed inevitable.

‘All the Invisible Things’ – Orlagh Collins

Vetty is taking time to work out how she feels about all sorts of things. It was easier when she was younger: her mother was alive, her best friend knew her instinctively and she didn’t have to worry about people trying to label her.

For the last few years they’ve lived in Somerset with her aunt, struggling to come to terms with losing mum. Now the family are moving back to London and Vetty is trying to pick up where she left off.

Some of the initial interactions we watched Vetty have were very self-conscious. It was hard to know how we felt about her and her friendship with Pez. As the two talk, it’s evident that Vetty has feelings for boys and girls and is going to have to think about what’s important to her.

I felt Vetty was a really engaging character. She didn’t always get things right, but it was easy to identify with her uncertainty.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me early access to this in exchange for my review.

‘The Binding’ – Bridget Collins

The Binding will be one of those divisive books that will have both fans and haters alike, but whichever camp you fall into I think there’ll be similar comments made about it.

For me this was the story of Emmett Farmer, a young man drawn to books but reluctant to take on the apprenticeship he’s offered for reasons he can’t explain. He comes to learn about himself and how he might challenge the expectations of his time.

When I requested this from NetGalley it was because of the lure of a story about books. In this world books are currency, used by fraudulent men to bind people to them. Books in this form are not stories – works of fiction are sneered at here as being less worthy – but they are used to draw memories from people who desire to forget things. Sometimes this is an unpleasant memory, but sometimes these bindings are used as a form of covering abuse or controlling others.

Intriguing though this was, we don’t focus on the books as much as I expected.
There’s no denying the fact that the first part of the story feels slow as you read. It drifts and it’s not clear why certain events are happening as they do, and the recurring allusions to secrets to be told did get a little wearing. However, as we started to uncover some of these details I became more invested in the story. Unfortunately I can see many readers being bored by the midway point where things really started to move forward, and simply not bothering to read on. That would be a shame.

As we come to understand Emmett’s actions and unearth some of the details that have led him to this point I couldn’t help but feel the story had shifted into a place that wasn’t expected.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

‘What If It’s Us?’ – Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I wanted to wait for my physical copy, but NetGalley gave me an ARC and I couldn’t resist…so now I’ll get to read it again, soon.

This did not go where I wanted to, it didn’t do a lot of the things I hoped it would but I still fell for it hook, line and sinker.

When Arthur and Ben meet one day in New York, the chances of them seeing each other again are pretty slim. But where would the fun be in that?

Through a varied range of ingenious actions they find each other and have a date. It doesn’t work brilliantly, so they try again…and again. There’s lots of other factors impacting on their attempt to have a relationship, but they keep trying. Even when things are clearly heading into car-crash territory these two come out of things smelling of roses.

Every character in the story sparkles on the page, and this was a gooey lovely thing. For the most part. Not always – because nobody’s life could be that amazing – but it came fairly close.

Even the ending – which totally goes against what part of me really wanted to happen – was perfect.

‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ – Mackenzi Lee

Felicity Montague…wish she’d been around when I was a teenager. Think I’m a little in love with this young woman!

Having survived some pretty risky situations she’s back, and throwing herself with gusto into things that nobody in their right mind would attempt.

When Felicity realises marriage to Callum the baker is not going to be for her she runs to London to stay with her brother, Monty. Determined to pursue her dreams she tries – again – to convince gentlemen in the medical establishment to permit her to study. Given the time she’s in, this doesn’t go well.

But a young woman, daughter of a pirate commander, offers to help her find her way to the home of old friend Johanna Hoffman who is about to marry Dr Alexander Platt.

Without giving away important plot details there’s more to the offer of help than we first think. Felicity gets herself embroiled in a risky chase to reclaim property belonging to Johanna’s late mother. She ends up closer to some of her dreams than she ever thought possible and things end in such a way that have me convinced there’s more to come.